Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Development

BOND: Before we started talking on this videotape session, we were talking about a leadership institute that you're wanting to begin. Some people think that leaders are thrown up by movements. A movement begins and it throws up a leader. Some people think that leaders start the movements themselves. And of course, some people believe the combination of these things happen. Do you have an idea -- where do leaders come from? How do we come across leaders?

MARSH: That's a -- that's a difficult question. You look at people like Martin and Andy Young and people who I really regard as true leaders. And sometimes the circumstances contribute to the man and then the man reacts to the circumstances. And --

BOND: You were exercising leadership roles in high school. Did your classmates go around saying, "Gee, I think Henry Marsh ought to be this, that or the other," or what happened? How'd that happen?

MARSH: I can't explain that. It's just something that I've always -- I've always done. I'll give you one example. I went to Puerto Rico for a conference of mayors and leaders. And one of the issues was whether or not the cities would take a position supporting affirmative action. And I wanted the National League of Cities to take that position. I had not gone to the Resolutions Committee so I had to get a two-thirds vote. So I rallied the African Americans at the conference and said, "Look, we got to go and get the two-thirds vote so we can support affirmative action." And they said, “Well, man, you know this is party time. This is the last days of the convention.” And I would literally go around and drag guys off the beach and drag them to the meeting to vote so we could get this resolution passed on affirmative action. I was a vice mayor, I wasn't a mayor. But I raised -- and we debated and raised so much hell, we got 63 percent of the vote. We needed 66 percent, but that was a great victory. The guys looked at me and said, "Okay. If you're that stupid, we're going to make you the president." So I was made the president of the National Council of Black Elected Officials. I wasn't even a mayor. People like Tom Bradley and Maynard [Jackson] and Coleman [Young]. All those guys were in the group. They said, "We're gonna fix you. If you're that gung-ho, we're gonna make you the president." I was president as vice mayor. So I'm saying --

BOND: You exercise leadership, and then were rewarded with a leadership role?

MARSH: I'm not sure it was a reward.

BOND: Well, it was a reward, it was a reward. So you both -- you exercised this leadership and one result was that you were rewarded with this leadership role. So that's one way it happens. Has that been your life story, or has it been a mix of other things?

MARSH: I don't know what motivated me to want that resolution passed. Because I could have been on the beach, I could have been on the beach --

BOND: What motivated you to say, "Gee, I'm not going on the beach. I'm going to do this instead"?

MARSH: Because I knew the issue was coming up and I was interacting with some white members of the National League of Cities who were from cities in the North. I played tennis with them, and they said, "You know, Henry, it would be nice if we had a resolution on affirmative action." I said, "Well -- "

BOND: Why didn't you say "Okay, why don't you get one up"?

MARSH: Well, they said but the problem is it didn't go through the Resolutions Committee. We could have gotten it through the Resolutions Committee, but we didn't do it. They said, "Well, we should have done it." I said, "Well, why can't we do it now?" They said, "Well, you can, but you have to get enough votes on the floor to get this thing through." I said, "Why can't we do that?" I said, "Can you get some support?" They said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, I can get some. I'll get the blacks." And that's when I went around, and I found the guys were enjoying themselves on the beach. And I literally dragged them. I said, "You come on in here and vote. We need your vote. This thing going to be close," and we almost made it. See, I'm saying that was something that I really wanted to do because I recognized in 1960 when it was early as it was, that it was important to take a stand on affirmative action for cities.